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The population center of the Comanches in the twentieth cen- 
tury is southwest Oklahoma. In past centuries, before the advent of 
the horse in the New World, the Comanches of the Plains and the 
Shoshones of the Great Basin were one people, probably then 
centered in the Wind River area of Wyoming and ranging through 
the northern part of the Great Basin and westward into the Plateau 
and eastward onto the northern Plains. Those early people are 
termed Shoshones; Comanche is the name given in later years to 
those Shoshones who moved onto the Plains. The early Shoshone- 
Comanche of the northern Plains-Plateau-Basin area were known 
as the Snake Indians to such explorers as Lewis and Clark. 

We know that the Comanches had adopted the horse and had 
begun to differentiate from the northern Shoshones by the late 
1600s, because they were observed in New Mexico by Europeans in 
1705 (Shimkin 1940:21). From that date until their forced settle- 
ment in the Texas Panhandle the Comanches' history becomes bet- 
ter and better known from writings of Europeans (and, later, of non- 
Indian Americans) of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. (See, 
for instance, Richardson 1933; Wallace and Hoebel 1952; Kavanagh 

The people who would become the Comanches hold a command- 
ing position in the history of the Great Plains. They ranged the 
Plains widely, from Saskatchewan to deep into Mexico. Kavanagh 
(n.d.) states that in the eighteenth century "the Comanche domi- 
nated the southern Plains, holding the foothills of the Rockies, from 
Shoshone territory in the Wind River area of Wyoming southward 
to the Staked Plains of Texas and New Mexico/ 

From the time the Comanches ventured onto the Plains their 
language began diverging from that spoken by the Shoshones who 
remained in the Great Basin. Miller (1970) describes the general 
situation of the Shoshones in the Basin, where constant movement 
of small groups has helped maintain language cohesion over a large 
area, despite a certain amount of dialect diversity. The Comanches, 
in contrast, having ranged widely over the Plains for at least 250 
years and winding up far from the Basin, were in contact with many 


languages. As the Comanches went farther and farther south, they 
lost all but sporadic contact with the Shoshones of Wind River. Kav- 
anagh (p.c.) believes the last important contact between individuals 
of the two groups occurred before 1850. 

Today the languages spoken by the two groups, although quite 
similar, are best thought of as two separate languages, rather than 
as dialects of the same language. That statement is based on 
observations of differences between the phonology and syntax of the 
languages. (The reader can observe a number of the phonological 
differences by a careful reading of chapter 2. Differences in syntax 
are not addressed herein.) One important difference is that 
Shoshone shows no evidence of the secbnd-position phenomena 
described in chapter 8. 

1.1. Remarks on the literature 

Comanche and Shoshone belong to the Numic family, a group of 
closely related Uto-Aztecan languages found (except for Comanche) 
in the Great Basin. The relationships among the Numic languages 

Western Numic 
Northern Paiute 

Eastern Numic 
Central Numic 



Southern Numic 

Southern Paiute/Ute/Chemehuevi 


Very early work on describing and classifying Comanche is dis- 
cussed in Shaul (1981). A flurry of interest in the language in the 
X940S and 1950s produced several short articles. Casagrande's 
(1948) article on "Comanche Baby Language" contains information 
that will never be duplicated, as Comanche children are no longer 
learning the language. The article also gives an interesting list of 
lexical items. Riggs (1949) discusses whether h plus stop should be 
analyzed as a cluster or a unit phoneme. She concludes that the 
form is a unit phoneme (and I concur). 

Introduction 3 

Canonge (X957) argues for the phonemic status of some of the 
voiceless vowels of the language. His article initiated a debate be- 
tween himself and Roman Jacobson about the nature of those voice- 
less vowels that resulted in Comanche voiceless vowels being well 
known in the linguistics literature. The debate is discussed briefly 
in chapter 2. 

Osborn and Smalley (1949) is an excellent, but brief, prelimi- 
nary analysis of the morphemes of the language. The other short 
article on the language from that era (Smalley 1953) discusses pho- 
nemic rhythm in Comanche, but is hard to follow, as the analysis 
seems to rely heavily on tape-recorded material, thus missing final 
and medial voiceless vowels. 

Among the larger works from that era are Canonge's Comanche 
Texts (1958), an outstanding collection of folktales and personal 
anecdotes that includes a Comanche-English morpheme list, and 
Casagrande's masterful study of loanwords in Comanche (x954a, 

i954b, 1955). 

More recently, Comanche has been studied by James Armagost, 
John McLaughlin, Lila Wistrand Robinson, and myself. Armagost 
(1980) is a grammar of Comanche taken primarily from Canonge's 
texts; it is a preliminary version of the grammar in Robinson and 
Armagost (1990). Armagost (1979, 1982a, 1982b, 1983* 1984* 1985a) 
examines the ways in which morphology and syntax conspire to 
reference participants in Comanche narrative. Armagost (1985b, 
1986, 1987, 1988a, X988b) also explores the phenomenon of Coman- 
che voiceless vowels. Armagost and Miller (n.d.) is an examination 
of the problem using material from Comanche and Shoshone. Most 
of the references to McLaughlin in this book (McLaughlin X982a, 
X982b, X983a, X983D, X983C, X984) are studies of Central Numic 
morphology, and trace the role some elements (basically affixes) of 
those languages have played. Much of his work is directed toward 
aspects of Comanche morphology. Armagost and McLaughlin work 
closely from Canonge's texts. Robinson and Armagost (X990) is a 
dictionary and grammar of Comanche based largely on Canonge's 
dictionary files and texts. 

Charney, Jean Ormsbee. 1993. A Grammar of Comanche. 
London/Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.